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If Only You Could See What I?ve Seen With Your Eyes: Blade Runner Redux

The Stop Smiling Film Review

Poster artwork by John Alvin

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Directed by Ridley Scott
(Warner Bros.)

Reviewed by Michael Joshua Rowin

In 1982 Warner Bros. released the original theatrical cut of the soon-to-be neo-noir sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner. That was hardly the last the world saw of it. Because the film was taken out of director Ridley Scott’s hands and subjected to all manner of ignominious alterations (including the insertion of an unnecessary and ill-fitted voice-over narration), the last 25 years have seen surface several different versions of Blade Runner, including an international cut, a director’s cut and, now — and perhaps finally — a “final cut.” Of what new or changed material does this purported final cut, which premieres in the States at the New York Film Festival, consist? Although I admire the film very much, I’m no Blade Runner expert and can only say that — unless I missed some small edits and additions — the final cut seems to simply be an enhanced version of the 1992 director’s cut, a technically perfected (Dolby remastered, special effects streamlined) fulfillment of the project Ridley oversaw but admits to rushing.

Let’s face it: The re-release of the film in this new form has been occasioned by a desire for closure — Scott finally completes his masterpiece — but also money. Inevitably, the event heralds a five-disc “Special Edition” Blade Runner DVD set due out in November, which is supposed to replace the now-unsatisfactory director’s cut DVD and “Digitally Remastered Version.” Are you as cynical as I am yet? Unless you live and breathe Blade Runner, it’s difficult to become too excited about the emergence of this latest offering. Most viewers will venture into the great beyond entirely at peace with the original (if one can use that word) director’s cut.

Of course, what can be said in favor of the final cut is that it gives one an excuse to return to Blade Runner at least one more time. Watching it yet again, it’s nearly impossible not to appreciate its unique place in Hollywood filmmaking — a big-budget sci-fi epic molded in the cast of a Chandleresque noir, and more influenced in rhythm and atmosphere by the work of Kubrick than that of Lucas. Time has been very kind to Blade Runner. Postmodern pastiche (albeit sublime postmodern pastiche) at the time of its conception, it now plays practically classical compared to the techno-scored video games and dumbed-down blockbusters that currently pass for sci-fi action, and its unabashed pulp engages in ways foreign to recent academic, “thoughtful” attempts at the genre.

The film’s first-class source material, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, has not a little to do with this success, but credit must be given where credit is due: Scott’s much-imitated imagining of a dank, dark and corrupt future Los Angeles, first seen in the stunning opening as a megapolis spewing flame into the sky, remains the definitive realization of a dystopia steeped in advanced technology — epitomized by the renegade artificially intelligent replicants the title character (played by a terrifically grave Harrison Ford) must track down and “retire” — but fallen prey to the dilapidation and alienation of modern urban zones. The matte shots and miniatures of the cityscape give an unforgettable impression of the future as an ancient artifact, with elevators gliding on the outside of skyscraper pyramids, while the action down on the ground is something out of an obscure piece of studio-era exotica as a mostly Asian subculture navigates through rain-drenched bazaars. Like the film’s simultaneously eerie and romantic score by ambient composer Vangelis, Blade Runner occasionally overindulges in mood, as with a chiaroscuro lighting scheme that’s sometimes more ostentatious than dramatic. But for the most part, Scott, whose career never followed up on the promise of the film, perfectly captures Dick’s paranoid dream world in which reality and its mirror images blur and merge.

There’s a slight silliness to Blade Runner, though, that most fans conveniently forget. Even as a one-of-a-kind, Blade Runner can be seen as an awkward transition film in between the self-consciously arty sci-fi adventures of the late Sixties and Seventies and the Eighties action movie. The climactic showdown between Ford’s Deckard and the Aryan replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) lacks sensible tactics and instead contains clunkily choreographed violence and a one-sided volley of taunts similar to early Schwarzenegger efforts. But this eventually leads to an operatic ending replete with flying doves and Blake quotations, proof that even when over the top, Scott’s uncompromisingly disorienting film is a singularly hallucinatory experience and nothing short of exhilarating.


Blade Runner: The Final Cut premieres tomorrow night at the 45th New York Film Festival. A limited run follows on October 5th in New York (at the Ziegfeld) and in LA

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